The chief of the U.S. Forest Service is warning that a billion acres of land across America are at risk of catastrophic wildfires like last fall's deadly Camp Fire that destroyed most of Paradise.
As we head into summer, with smoke already drifting into the Northwest from wildfires in Alberta, Canada, Vicki Christiansen said wildfires are now a year-round phenomenon. She pointed to the hazardous conditions in forests that result from a history of suppression of wildfires, rampant home development in high-risk places and the changing climate.
"When you look nationwide there's not any place that we're really at a fire season. Fire season is not an appropriate term anymore," Christiansen said in an interview with NPR at the agency's headquarters in Washington.
Christiansen heads the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service. The agency is the nation's lead firefighting apparatus. It's trying to prioritize treatments such as thinning, brush clearing and prescribed burning on 80 million acres of its own land, mostly in the West. (Her billion acre estimate includes land across multiple federal, state and local jurisdictions as well as private land.)
"Our national priority is to improve the condition of our nation's forests and grasslands," Christiansen said.